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Trends in aircraft wiring and risk assessment with John Ashour

Maintenance & Sustainment

The purpose of the Lectromec Podcast is to keep you informed of trends in the rapidly changing aerospace industry. Once a month we interview leaders and seek their insight on topics related to Aircraft Electrical Wiring Interconnection System (EWIS), wire testing, and risk assessment for aerospace.

Today’s interview is with the President of InterConnect Wiring (you can check out their blog for more information), John Ashour. His company provides partial and complete rewiring of military aircraft. The general focus was aircraft wiring and risk assessment. In the interview we discussed:

  • Candidates for rewiring projects
  • Value of appropriate documentation for a rewiring project
  • Future trends in aerospace wiring

It is a quick fifteen minute episode.

You can also read the transcript below:

John Ashour
John Ashour

John G.: Welcome to the Lectromec Podcast with John Gilroy. Lectromec provides you the turnkey solution for aerospace wiring assessment, testing, and certification. The purpose of this podcast is to keep you informed of trends in the rapidly changing aerospace industry.

Today’s guest is John Ashour, president of InterConnect Wiring. Good afternoon, John. How are you doing?

John A.: I’m doing great. Thank you very much, John, for having me on. How are you doing today?

John G.: I’m good. We just spoke on the phone yesterday and the Skype sounds so much clear, doesn’t it?

John A.: Sure does. It’s a lot better than the cell phone. It’s amazing.

John G.: Yes, it’s amazing.

I want to start by going back in time, back to the early days of the cell phones, back in 1993, because I think listeners are wondering, “What is John’s background? What’s his connection to InterConnect Wiring? How did he start that company?” Maybe you could give us a little thumbnail sketch of your background, John, and how you wound up starting this company, please.

John A.: Sure, I love to tell this story.

A little about my background is that I’m an engineer. In fact, I’m a nuclear engineer. I used to work at a nuclear power plant. I wanted to get out of the nuclear industry, so I took a job with General Dynamics back in 1987. The job was working in the electrical wiring harness design group, specifically for the F-16. I worked there for five years. I was designing electrical wiring harnesses and power distribution panels and things like that.

At the end of five years, General Dynamics, which was about to become Lockheed Martin, decided they wanted to sell more F-16s and they looked for ways to cut costs. What they did is they helped establish a new company in Mexico. They had in mind to layoff around 200 assemblers who were making the F-16 wiring harnesses and cockpit panels.

At that time, I knew some knowledge of that operation down in Mexico, and it wasn’t going real well. I decided, “I’ve been here for five years. I’ve always wanted to start my own company.” My idea was I would start my own company and then if Lockheed, it changed from General Dynamics to Lockheed, would layoff around these 200 people, then I could start a company. If the Mexico operation did not go well, I could hire them all, and all of a sudden have a fairly large company making F-16 wiring harnesses, which I knew real well, and hire these people, many of them been working there 15+ years, so it was a very good pool of people here in Fort Worth, Texas, that I could draw from.

As it turned out, the operation in Mexico, Lockheed Martin made sure that it was successful, and they’ve been producing F-16 harnesses ever since. I learned a quick lesson in starting a business, that some of your best plans don’t really come to fruition, but I had my own company and I was bound and determined to keep it going, even with that setback. Now the company is doing very well.

John G.: That’s an interesting story. My next question was going to be, why Texas? I guess you were born and raised in Texas, and your first job was there, or just a good spot for a business?

John A.: Yes it is. I live in, and my company is in Fort Worth, Texas. This area is very rich in the aerospace market, with General Dynamics, and Bell Helicopter, BAE, Sikorsky has an office here, Boeing. There’s a lot of companies around this area.

I think the United States purposely targeted Fort Worth as a place for aviation because during World War II they helped start up the General Dynamics facility here. I just happened to be born and raised in Fort Worth and thought this was a great place for an aerospace manufacturing company. I started my company in 1993, so it’s been 22 years. I’m very happy with what Fort Worth offers, and this whole area and community.

John G.: I’ve interviewed hundreds of executives. This is music to my ears. This is what I like. You find a problem, you get a solution, you put people together. The solution also employs other people. I think everyone wins. Tell me John, who is a typical customer for InterConnect Wiring?

John A.: Our typical customers are some of the large OEM, original equipment manufacturers, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Airbus, Sikorsky, Bell Helicopter, BAE, L-3, Northrop Grumman. Many, many, many companies like that. Honeywell. I could keep going through the list because there are many aerospace manufacturing companies, especially here in the United States.

John G.: What’s a fascinating question I like to ask people is what is the title of a typical person that your company would interact with for an OEM? Would it be a quality assurance manager, would it be a project manager? What kind of titles would those people be, you normally interact with?

John A.: At these OEMs, typically at first we start talking to purchasers, and a lot of times small business personnel too. Then we start talking to more of the engineers, program managers, quality people, people like that. On a day-to-day basis, it’s the procurement personnel at these companies. For many of them, our personnel, our contract administrators, talk to them multiple times each day, at each one of these OEMs.

John G.: We have an organization that owns an aircraft. It’s at a certain cycle in its life, then someone has to decide whether or not they’re going to rewire it. What is a good candidate for a rewire?

John A.: Very good question. This is one of the things that InterConnect Wiring, my company, specializes in. We are stronger in the aftermarket than we are in the new production-type markets. The aftermarket, the rewires, the retrofits and things like that, is what we typically pursue.

We typically look for aircraft that are over 20+ years old, a lot of times over 25 years old. We purposely, by the way, try for the aircraft that are more numerous throughout the world, such as the F-16, and also UH-60 Black Hawks.

For those, we approach the different Air Forces or governments who fly these, and try to find out such things as are they having intermittent problems. Are there fires on board? What kind of problems are these aircraft experiencing? Then we put together proposals and insights as to how we may help them out. That’s some of the things we think about.

John G.: Let’s say we had a company in Europe and they had an airplane that needed to be wired. They’d fly the plane actually to your site, or how does that actually happen?

John A.: In some cases, that has been done. Not with my company. However, we have sent field teams out throughout the world, mostly in Asia, to assist other companies and teach them how to do complete rewires and partial rewires of their military aircraft. We have field teams that we draw on from this area, or from other parts of the world who, we go out and plan, we make the replacement wiring harnesses, we put together all the planning and everything that it takes, all the materials, the installation materials, and we send the teams out there and get the job done on site, or in country.

John G.: It’s kind of funny, just this afternoon I got off the phone with my wife. We have a pond in our backyard and we had to bring in an electrician to look at a small problem we had back there. Because I wasn’t going to mess with any wires in any water at all.

I think, when you look at aircraft, this is a very specific skill set that you have. I think you have to have technical competence and you have to have physical capability. It’s a tough skill set for many people to have. What are the considerations you look at in people that do this type of work? What kind of skills do they need?

John A.: One of the main considerations is the OEM’s data, whether it be the wiring harness detail data, the building materials or parts list, the routing list or from/to information, harness installation drawings always helps a lot. It’s hard to go out there and do reverse engineering of a complete aircraft of the wires. What we try to do is team with larger OEM companies so that we have access to this data.

Once such company is Lockheed Martin here in Fort Worth. We are a F-16 licensee for electrical products. Through our license agreement we have access to the OEM’s data, including tooling, engineering data, specifications, configuration, management-type data. That’s very important in order to do something like this. It tremendously reduces the overall cost if you don’t have to do a lot of reverse engineering.

John G.: I noticed on your website that you partner with big companies like that, that’s got to be good. What about the rewire process itself? Is there anything you could change about it? I guess better documentation is really what the key is, is that right?

John A.: Yes, I would say better documentation, OEM-type data, and also just know the configuration of the aircraft. By that I mean, have they done any modifications that’s not in the existing data? Are they having any problems? Is the aircraft flyable at the time?

Whenever we go out to see these different Air Forces that fly these aircraft, we have a large checklist where we ask many, many questions, and go and verify all this type of information. Typically for, we call it a filled service checklist, typically it takes over two days of a lot of questions in order to fill it out, even before we tell them whether it’s possible, or just what we think of the project.

John G.: If you’re listening to this podcast and there’s snow on the ground, you may want to their website and learn more. You can go to interconnect-wiring.com. That’s I-N-T-E-R-C-O-N-N-E-C-T-wiring.com. Is that the correct website, John?

John A.: Yes, it is. Thank you very much. Interconnect-wiring.com.

John G.: I was there this morning, and you’ve got a great blog there. All kinds of interesting articles. I was scrolling through it. I had one of our technicians here scroll through and read some articles. There was one about foreign object damage. I never even knew some of these concepts existed. Your company’s not only helping people physically, but you’re also instructing them with a lot of best practices, aren’t they?

John A.: Yes. That’s one of the things we try to do and offer to our customers, is to have blogs out there for information that we think is important for them and also as a tool for us to hopefully get orders. We’ve done, especially I’ve done, many different blogs about rewiring military aircraft, in particular F-15s, F-16s. How to get C-130 spare parts. A lot of the other ones that I’ve written there pertain mostly to F-16s, but we try to share a lot of information.

That’s one of the things that we did starting in early 2014, is try to have more blogs out there to help and train some of our customers and other people who might be interested in what we have to say.

John G.: While I was at your website, it looks like you go to a lot of conferences too. One coming up in Nashville in May, is that right? Every month, you’re at a conference, it looks like.

John A.: Yes. We have quite a large sales team, so we’re always trying to go and see our customers and go to a lot of these conferences because we find many opportunities at them. I’m very pleased with the way our sales team has been performing, especially over the past couple of years. We’ve seen a lot of opportunities for many different aircraft, mostly military, for upgrades, retrofits, rewires, and things like that.

It’s amazing, just over the past few years, how much more our company has grown in terms of many other aircraft or platforms, and programs for each one of these too. I’ve been pleased.

John G.: Relay panels, cockpit panels, power distribution panels, all kinds of stuff.

Speaking of conferences, I want to jump back to conferences. There’s a conference in southern France, it was dedicated to more electrical aircraft. I see this as one of the trends in the industry, is aerospace moving away from mechanical pneumatic systems into more electrical systems. How do you think that’s going to impact your business?

John A.: Since we specialize in electrical-type systems, electrical wiring and harnesses, hopefully it will help us because there’s more wiring in there. However now, due to things like Wi-Fi and high speed digital data-type cables, fiber optics and things like that, I think what you’re getting to is what’s going to be the future of aircraft wiring? What do we expect out there? I think a lot of these type of things, especially, I’m not sure how it’d work, but Wi-Fi is starting to get out there more that, I could see maybe Wi-Fi systems inside an aircraft communicating together without even the wire.

John G.: That’s really hard to believe. I couldn’t have imagined that five or ten years ago. In the next five years, where do you see your company?

John A.: Our company will continue growing. We have a plan that we want to grow at least 10% each year for the next 10 years. We are marching toward that. We expect and are trying to get more type of platforms to service, and just continue to grow as the way we have.

I imagine we’ll stay here in Fort Worth, Texas. We’re very happy here, but the opportunities are numerous out there, especially in the aftermarket.

John G.: We began this interview by talking about our quick conversation in the airport in Alabama, I guess that’s my cue to ask you our up close and personal question. Tell me John, how many miles have you flown here in the last 12 months?

John A.: That’s a very interesting question. Let me think about it. I’ve gone to Asia a couple of times, Europe a couple of times, South America, all over the United States. My guess in the past 12 months, is probably somewhere around 150,000 to 200,000 miles.

John G.: One hundred fifty thousand miles, my goodness. That’s quite a traveler. If you’re talking about aerospace, I guess it’s a question you got to ask everyone. If they don’t travel much, you got to, “Hey, what’s going on?” That’s great.

We’re going to have to end our podcast here. I just need to thank my listeners for listening to the Lectromec Podcast here. Please subscribe and tune in for the next episode.

Speaker 2: Thanks for listening to the Lectromec Podcast, the podcast that helps you improve your understanding of aerospace electrical systems. Please contact Lectromec if you’d like to address your EWIS design, certification, or sustainment needs.